“It was time to consolidate our resources and unite our cultural entities and conduct an RFP for a marketing partner. We narrowed our list of prospects and send out our RFP to a dozen or so marketing agencies in the Southeast. From the moment we looked at the ads done by The Goss Agency it was obvious the “got us”. It was obvious they did their homework and knew something about our culture. Their presentation of our culture was truly striking. We looked proud and accomplish and rich with heritage and tradition in a ‘National Geographic’ sort of way. Since then, 4 years ago, the advertising has instilled a sense of pride in our people and the results have been profound from town levy to numbers at the gates of the Fairgrounds, Drama, Village
and Museum.”
- Mary Jane Ferguson, Director of Marketing, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Embarking on the 2010 season, NC Tourism issued a notice reporting the results of a national travel industry survey conducted as a result of alarming gas prices on how the state would be affected from a travel and
tourism perspective:

  • The good news was that 89% of the people who had planned to travel would still be traveling as planned.
  • The bad news was they were planning on cutting their daily spend an average of 75% to cover the
    added fuel cost.

The Goss Agency acted fast as our goal and focus is our clients’ success. Not to mention, Cherokee’s marketing budget was derived from Tribal Levy, or tax on retail purchases. The agency team gathered in the conference room for a series of ½ day brain storming sessions on how to stem the problem.

TGA created a pocket-sized map that looked like a passport with the Cherokee Tribal Seal. On one side was a map with all the retail/attractions by category with promotions and special offers, on the other side the historical and cultural brand romance story of the Cherokee.

This piece accomplished 3 things:

  • Made people aware of all significant businesses, catering to tourists by category and got people from shop, to restaurant, to hotel, to attraction and so on.
  • Told the cultural and historical story of
    the Cherokee people.
  • Efficiently guided people around town with an illustrated map which became a souvenir.

Setting the stage for the launch of the Cherokee Passport to the sovereign nation Cherokee:

In typical TGA fashion we didn’t just issue a press release we released a story. A story with a hook: “Tribal Chief Michel Hicks, announces, “If you are going to the sovereign nation of Cherokee you will now need a passport.”

The Goss Agency with Cherokee Tribal officials created physical road blocks (with Cherokee Police, cones, barriers, flashing arrow highway signs) at the entrances into Cherokee from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Hwy. 441. Vehicles entering Cherokee were stopped by the tribe’s Warriors of AniKituhwa dressed in traditional regalia asked them for their “Passports” in the native Cherokee language. After a few moments of “interrogation” and with much laughter, the driver was issued a Cherokee Passport and told to have a good time.


  • Cherokee Passport story was on the
    5, 6, 11 pm local news.
  • Cherokee Passport story was syndicated and picked up by the Associated Press.
  • More than 5,000 Cherokee Passports were issued in the
    first week of the promotion.
  • Over the course of the promotion, spending increased by 19% across local businesses, attractions, hoteliers
    and restaurants.
  • Images and video from the roadblock appeared across all social media networks as Cherokee visitors posted photos and updates, tagging Visit Cherokee, to their personal Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
  • The number of Visit Cherokee’s Facebook page fans rose 300% plus during the event and the days following the roadblock.
  • Chatter about the passport on the Visit Cherokee’s Facebook page remained high throughout
    the summer.
  • Multiple media outlets and bloggers picked up the Cherokee Passport and Road Block story.

As a result of the ingenuity of the event and the passport, the Asheville Citizen-Times wrote and published an editorial board column commending the Tribe on its creativity and responsible use of casino revenues.


Renowned 55-year-old outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, tells the story of the removal of the Cherokee, the attendance was down 49%. As well, the Museum of the Cherokee Indians and Oconaluftee Indian Village visitation was down over 40%. Retail sales were off 30% and overnight stays down 23%. A survey showed very little brand awareness and virtually “0” brand recall, outside the association with Harrah’s Casino. In fact the image that did live was negative: “rubber tomahawk; run down; no place to eat; dated; social problems”. Adding to the problem, there were multiple attractions with individual budgets projecting conflicting brand imaging
and messaging.

Unify Stakeholders: attractions, retail, hotels etc.

  • Conduct Past Visitor and Prospect Online Survey identifying target profiles, perceptions and barriers.
  • Execute TGA Branding Program: Brand Audit, Competitive Analysis, Psychographic Profile Analysis, Stakeholder and Influencer Interviews, Branding Workshop, Quantitative Study, Focus Groups, Brand Laddering, Brand Positioning Story/Statement, Logo, Branding Themeline, Affinity Target profiling and prioritization, Strategic Marketing/Media Plan, PR plan, Social Media strategy/Plan, resulting in these tactics: Targeting ad campaign all media, outdoor campaign, TV/Radio (Branding and Event), Collateral: Visitor Guides, Rack Brochures, Attraction Brochures, Group Planner/Tour Operator Kit (translated to German), Wayfinding, Tradeshow Booths, Event Campaigns, Websites Destination/Attractions, Passport Program (Visitor’s Map/Heritage Guide
    with Promotions).


  • 47% Increase in attraction
    ticket revenue
  • 19% levy increase (retail sales)
  • 300% increase in merchandise sales
  • 233% Increase in Website Traffic
  • 150% increase in Event Revenue
  • 280% average Social Media growth across channels
  • 85% increase in
    International visitation
  • 34% increase in Hotel/Cabin/
    Campground accommodations
  • 230% increase among target profile in Brand Attitude/Awareness
  • Stakeholder/brand unification
  • Featured partner in NC Tourism Website (previously
    no presence)
  • $5.5M PR measured value 5 years